Most readers are probably moving slow today, this first Sunday of 2016. Even if you did not over-indulge of the feni bottle and got to bed promptly at 12.01 am, after wishing everyone well, a new year is best embraced at a civilised, gentle and unhurried pace.
And what better way to assist in that ritual than to be accompanied by inspirational music? Here are three sitar masters in collaboration with musical soulmates that I guarantee will give your New Year just the lift you need to get you flying.
Ghazal Ensemble (Kayhan Kalhor and Ustad Shujaat Khan)Pari Mahal
You could call Ghazal Ensemble’s unique self-invented genre of music Silk Road Fusion. Most of their albums draw on the deep cultural bonds that connect West and South Asia and promote an imagined Golden Time epitomized by the culturally blended worlds that existed along the ancient trade route. Their sound is dreamy and meditative but never tiresome. I always imagine myself floating gracefully, like wafts of smoke toward the soft roof of a yurt, when I listen to Ghazal Ensemble. The principals of this veteran group are Shujaat Khan, son of the magisterial Ustad Vilayat Ali Khan and KayhanKalhor, Iran’s superstar of the kamancheh (little bow), a string instrument played in various forms in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Naseer Shamma and Ashraf Khan PoonchwalaThe Path to Shaqlawa
Shaqlawa is a hill station in northern Iraqi beloved by the region’s Kurdish people. When I visited many years ago the final approach to the main town led you up a serious and winding path at the end of which you could take in vistas that seemed to stretch for hundreds of miles. This track features Iraqi poet and musician, Naseer Shamma, who contributes oud (lute) to one of the most pleasurable East meets East albums of recent times. On sitar is Ashraf Khan Poonchwala, son of Pakistan’s greatest sitar master, Ustad Mohammad Sharif Khan Poonchwala. ShaabaazHussain accompanies on tabla. The track captures the spirit of a traveller’s desire to reach his destination, be it temporal or spiritual with both oud and sitar moving urgently forward driven by a steady drum beat. Perhaps a gentle reminder that though the New Year has just begun there are many miles yet to travel.
Mike del Ferro and Niladri Kumar & SitarfunkLive
Dutch keyboardist Mike del Ferro is a globetrotting citizen of the world. Niladri Kumar, here leading his band Sitarfunk, is India’s equally adventurous and inquisitive young sitarist. This selected exercise in musical enchantment opens with soft ambient swirls of sound from del Ferro’s keyboard before percussionists Gino Banks and Satyajit Tawalkar begin to pepper the atmosphere. All by way of preparing the heart of the piece for Kumar, who plays his orange zitar (electric guitar/sitar blend) as if he were channelling Carlos Santana. His virtuosity is renown and he doesn’t disappoint. Indeed, all the players on this stage provide thrilling performances on their instruments leaving the listener feeling exhilarated and enthused. Just what we all need to be when we wrap up this long New Year’s weekend and head back to the real world tomorrow!